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Chris Packham cleared to challenge Government’s net zero rollback in court

Chris Packham has been granted permission for a judicial review of the Government’s decision to reverse some of its green policies.

The naturalist and TV presenter sent a challenge to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in October after the Government watered down policies aimed at helping to cut UK climate-warming emissions to zero overall by 2050, known as net zero.

Mr Sunak announced the rollback in September, which included delaying the ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2030 to 2035, reducing the phase-out of gas boilers from 100% to 80% by 2035, and scrapping the requirement for energy efficiency upgrades for homes.

The Prime Minister said the UK’s approach to net zero was imposing “unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Paul Ellis/PA)

In an announcement on Monday, law firm Leigh Day, which is representing Mr Packham, said Mr Justice Eyre had granted permission for the legal challenge to be heard in court.

The legal team said a judge will decide whether it was lawful for ministers to decide to water down the policies, with a hearing to take place later this year.

The measures and timetable to introduce the policies were laid out in a Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) put before Parliament in March 2023.

This came after a successful legal challenge by Friends of the Earth which argued that the Government’s Net Zero Strategy did not include necessary details on how the UK would reach its legally binding targets by 2050.

The Leigh Day team will argue that after the decision, Mr Sunak did not confirm whether the Government would still be able to meet its sixth carbon budget and how it would do so, as required by the 2008 Climate Change Act.

Leigh Day said Mr Packham has been given the go-ahead to argue three grounds in court.

He will say it is not lawful for the Government to remove key policies from the CBDP without having others in place to ensure targets will still be met.

The case also alleges that when taking the decision to water down the policies, the Government failed to take mandatory and relevant considerations into account, including the impact on the achievement of the carbon budgets and the net zero target as well as advice from the Climate Change Committee.

On the third ground, Mr Packham will argue there was a failure to consult the public and key stakeholders before abandoning the policies.

The naturalist said: “The pledges which the Government abandoned were important parts of the UKs plan to reach net zero in order to ameliorate the effects of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss which threaten life on our planet.

“Notably they, unlike some of the other parts of that strategy, were actually quantifiable, they were directly measurable in terms of carbon management.

“To abandon them without having comparable quantifiable measures in place was reckless and dangerous.

“To abandon them without seeking qualified advice was undemocratic and arrogant.”

Carol Day, a Leigh Day solicitor representing the TV star, said: “Mr Packham will argue that it cannot be lawful for the Government to abandon carefully thought-out policies designed to achieve net zero targets without having other measures in place.

“It would make the Government’s report to Parliament under the Climate Change Act nothing more than a snapshot in time.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “We strongly reject these claims and will be robustly defending this challenge.

“We are the first major economy to halve emissions and have one of the most ambitious legally binding emissions targets in the world, having overdelivered on every carbon budget to date.

“We are committed to meeting our legal net zero commitments and families will now have more time to make the transition, saving some people thousands of pounds at a time when cost of living is high.”